by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
Democrats don’t believe they are going to win in November.
That is a reasonable conclusion to make based on candidate filing data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
Candidate recruitment is one of the signs that observers look for early in the campaign season to see how well the parties are doing.
Running for public office can take a large toll on candidates in terms of time, money, relationships, and emotional well-being. That is why it can be difficult for parties to recruit candidates for races they probably cannot win. Why would people put themselves through that pain when there is little chance of prevailing?
By that metric, the relative dearth of Democratic Candidates for the General Assembly is a sign that rank-and-file Democrats themselves believe that they are in for a rough ride in the general election. At the end of the candidate filing period at noon on March 3, Democrats failed to recruit candidates for 41 of North Carolina’s 170 state legislative districts (24.1%). By comparison, Republicans only failed to recruit candidates in 10 districts (5.9%). Put another way, Republicans start with a four-to-one advantage in General Assembly seats before the first vote is cast. See the download below for a list of districts without major party competition in November.
Is the Democrats’ problem that there are too many safe Republican districts?
According to the Civitas Partisan Index (CPI), there are 56 safe Republican General Assembly districts and 47 safe Democratic districts. Democrats failed to recruit candidates for 30 safe Republican districts (53.6%) while all ten of the districts without Republican candidates are safely democratic (21.3%). Republicans were able to get candidates to run in a majority of districts that are the most difficult for them to win, something Democrats failed to do.
Even more troubling for Democrats is that they failed to recruit candidates for eleven districts where they should have at least an outside shot of winning in a favorable political climate (see Table 1).
Table 1: Potentially competitive districts with no Democratic candidates
|NC HOUSE DISTRICT 003||R+8||Likely Republican|
|NC HOUSE DISTRICT 007||R+6||Likely Republican|
|NC HOUSE DISTRICT 010||R+3||Lean Republican|
|NC HOUSE DISTRICT 022||R+7||Likely Republican|
|NC HOUSE DISTRICT 052||R+6||Likely Republican|
|NC HOUSE DISTRICT 055||R+9||Likely Republican|
|NC HOUSE DISTRICT 075||R+5||Lean Republican|
|NC SENATE DISTRICT 02||R+7||Likely Republican|
|NC SENATE DISTRICT 09||R+9||Likely Republican|
|NC SENATE DISTRICT 26||R+6||Likely Republican|
|NC SENATE DISTRICT 31||R+5||Lean Republican|
Two of the more noteworthy recruitment failures for Democrats are House District 10 (Wayne County), which the CPI rates as only an R+3, and Senate District 26 (Guilford and Rockingham counties), represented by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. Berger’s district was one of the primary targets of progressive redistricting lawsuits and it went from R+11 to R+6 in court-ordered redistricting. Despite the improved conditions in the 26th, Democrats were unable to recruit a challenger to Berger, freeing him to devote more of his time and effort to helping other Republican candidates win.
Recruitment failures do not guarantee election failures, as Roll Call’s Nathan L. Gonzales noted of the 2014 United States Senate race in North Carolina:
In North Carolina, state Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry was touted as a GOP recruitment failure in 2013. But one day after the Hill story was published, state House Speaker Thom Tillis jumped into the race and went on to win a competitive primary, ultimately defeating Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in the general election.
You can’t beat someone with no one, however, and Democrats have severely handicapped themselves by not recruiting a fuller slate of candidates.